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Thursday, 14 September 2000

That Which Is Asleep Will Awaken: Rudolph Steiner on Babies

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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Do you feel that in today's world, children are being pushed to develop quickly and not enough time is spent on enjoying the moment and allowing children to progress at their own pace? Are you sometimes concerned that modern toys, including television and computers, may hurt rather than help your children's development?

If so, the philosophy and approach to early childhood developed by Rudolf Steiner may work well for you and your baby. Steiner lived from 1861 to 1925 in what was then Austria and is now part of Croatia. He was a noted philosopher, scientist, artist and educator, who developed a philosophy towards life and the nature of mankind called Anthroposophy.

Here's a little philosophical background:

Perhaps what most characterizes Steiner's view of children is that we should look at development as a fluid process that does not need constant intervention. Instead, children need to have their inborn talents and abilities nurtured and encouraged in order to reach their true potential.

An infant, says Steiner, begins her life in a dreamlike state. Her consciousness, meaning her perception of being a part of the outer world, is sleeping. Growth during the first three years of life involves a gradual awakening of consciousness and emotions. Steiner refers to this gradual process as "incarnating," which means "coming into the body" or into life on earth.

Steiner felt that in order to successfully reach their potential, infants should be allowed to "awaken" at their own pace, without interference from "unnatural" sources. This does not mean that you should sit and do nothing to try and stimulate your child's development, rather, you should become aware of the natural stages of infant development and provide your baby with the proper environment and stimulation to allow that natural development to take place.

So practically, what should you do?

A newborn child, states Steiner, is a "sense-organ" -- in other words, she experiences the world solely through her senses. Therefore, parents should pay close attention to the sensual input surrounding their infant.

Here are some suggestions:

Visual Stimulation:

1. Hold, cuddle and/or nurse your infant often.
2. Keep her visual environment calm and unimposing.
3. Soften lighting.
4. Drape colored silk over the bassinet. (Suggested colors are blue, pink and rose.)
5. Use a stroller that allows your baby to look at you, not one that faces the street.

Hearing:

1. Try and limit loud or sudden noises. (e.g. doors slamming, loud radio)
2. Do not tiptoe around the house.
3. Do focus on the quality of sounds presented to the baby. (Not too loud, sudden or abrasive.)
4. Sing to your baby often.
5. Do not use taped recordings to "sing" to your baby.

Touch:

Dress and swaddle your baby in clothes made from only natural fibers, such as cottons, silk and wool, and not synthetics

In the book You Are Your Child's First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin, who bases her philosophy on Steiner's ideas, says that the key to encouraging development is not fancy, artificial aids, but natural attention provided by a parent. This means:

1. Touch and hold your baby often.
2. Talk to him.
3. Spend time looking at your child face-to-face and making eye contact
4. Generally respond quickly to fussiness or crying.
5. Carry your baby a lot to encourage closeness and to strengthen security.

As an infant grows and begins to be able to explore the environment, provide her with the following stimulation:

1. Put her on a blanket of natural fibers, placed on the floor.
2. Allow her to explore the environment on both her back and stomach.
3. An infant seat is not advised. Artificially propping up a child will not aid development.
4. Do not enroll a baby in exercise classes or provide fancy stimulation.

Be selective about your choice of toys.

From age six weeks:

1. A crib mobile and/or crib gym that doesn't make loud noises and doesn't have flashing lights.
2. A kick- toy; a stuffed toy attached to the end of the crib so the child can practice moving it with her legs.
3. Place crib toys on the perimeter of the crib, not towards the middle, since this is the area that a young baby sees.

Once a child can sit up and especially once he begins to crawl:

1. Give the child "toys" from nature or from the kitchen such as large shells, pots and pans, nesting bowls, and wooden spoons. (I don't know about you, but I always find that my children prefer the "toys" around the house over purchased items.)
2. Have a "baby drawer" in your house where these items can be stored neatly, but your baby can reach them whenever he wants.
3. Baby-proof the house in such a way that your child can roam freely and learn from his environment. Allow your child to explore his home and learn from the natural materials around him.
4. Don't place your child in a playpen. This limits his ability to explore freely.

Other recommended toys for an older baby are:

1. Stiff board books.
2. Balls in a variety of sizes and textures.

Choose toys that allow your child to learn from his surroundings and do not try and limit him to one specific activity.

In order to truly apply Steiner's philosophy, you need to consider not only which toys and products you wish to purchase, but think about which items you may not want to use with your baby.

Here is a list of toys and baby products that Steiner (and those following his philosophy of child development) would not recommend:

1. Pacifiers
2. Bottle props
3. Baby walker or bouncer, playpen or infant seat
4. Toys that mechanically produce noises

What do all these products have in common?

All these items can be viewed as ways to constrain a child, thereby limiting her ability to learn from her natural environment and/or introduce unnatural influences into her life.

GOING BACK TO WORK

Steiner felt strongly that a parent is the best caretaker for a child during the first three years of life. Today, for both economic reasons and for practical career considerations, mothers are under pressure to return to work as soon as possible after the birth of a baby, often as early as six weeks. While waiting three years to return to work may be impractical, Baldwin, author of You Are Your Child's First Teacher, asks parents to consider staying home at least during the first year of their child's life.

Steiner, says Baldwin, discusses how a baby is "totally connected to the mother's vital energy and nurtured by it" in the first year of life. Therefore, while it is true that wonderful, high quality child-care is available, no paid caretaker can develop the same connection to the child as a parent. There are caring and loving baby-sitters, but no one can experience the same excitement as a parent when watching a child take his first steps.

Last modified on Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:50
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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